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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Humility, dignity are necessary

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

As we watch the aftermath of the sinking of the Ehime Maru, hear highlights of the testimony of those on board and see the grief-lined faces of the victims' families, it's hard to resist drawing our own conclusions and sitting on the court of public opinion. But as we outsiders sit in judgement, a growing number of people are giving voice to a troubling sentiment:

Why should Americans apologize to the Japanese?

The calls and letters to the editor have been few, but enough to cause concern.

Some express that idea outright, drawing comparisons to the bombing of Pearl Harbor as if there's some connection, some debt that has yet to be paid that cancels out the loss of nine Japanese lives. Why should we apologize for sinking a little fishing boat when they sank the Arizona?

Yes, such wounds may never heal, but linking Pearl Harbor to the Ehime Maru just isn't logical. It smells of racism.

Others come at it more subtly. Shouldn't the captain and surviving crew members of the Japanese ship be questioned in the same way Captain Waddle and his men were grilled? Don't they share responsibility for what happened? Why isn't anyone asking if students were at the helm of the Ehime Maru? Why was the vessel in a shipping lane used for submarine drills? Shouldn't the Japanese crew have known they were above a submarine? Why didn't they take evasive action?

This sounds so much like questioning the victim of a rape (What were you wearing? How high were the heels on your shoes? How short was your skirt? Why were you alone at night in that part of town?) or blaming an injured pedestrian for crossing the street when the bus driver wasn't looking.

Perhaps for some people, it is inconceivable that the mighty U.S. Navy could stand accused of the embarrassing series of ego-fueled blunders that led to the sinking of the Ehime Maru. There are those who believe in their heart of hearts that the American military can do no wrong, that lives lost in defense of liberty and democracy more than pay for any injuries or slights, that our nation and the world owe an unpayable debt to the sacrifices of our troops.

But gratitude should not excuse negligence.

Mistakes were made on the submarine. It may hurt American pride that our finest fighters could make such shameful errors, but denying responsibility by pointing fingers at the victims is just wrong. We tell our children to say they're sorry when they hurt others. We tell them that by apologizing for their mistakes, they are better, stronger people. We should expect the same level of humility and dignity from our military, and from ourselves.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Her e-mail address is lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.